Iraq, the Land of Plenty (of Rice)

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Road-tripping through Northern Iraq, I’ve stumbled on some interesting regional specialties amid the kebabs and hummus. In Serchinar Restaurant in Zahko (not far from the Syrian border), a platter of grilled meat was served with endless side dishes, including this bright green concoction I’d never seen before:

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Turns out it was banana slices served in a sweet banana & sugar syrup. Inexplicably dyed green, and inexplicably served as an appetizer instead of dessert.

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The efficient servers gave each of us two soups to start: one was a standard chicken noodle, but the second was a bright orange broth that tasted of tomatoes and lemon. In it bobbed a kuttelk, an Assyrian dumpling made with semolina and bulgur flour, stuffed with spiced meat. The dumpling was hearty and filling, with the consistency of a matzoh ball, and the broth was pleasantly tangy.

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In Erbil, Al-Tabekh Restaurant serves traditional Iraqi – not Kurdish – food, which in its simplest form could be called RICE AND MEAT WITH SAUCE.  But oh what rice. And oh what meat. And oh what sauce! A platter of five or six different kinds of rice and grains arrived heaped with leg of lamb that was as fall-off-the-bone as a pile of baby back ribs. There was bulgur wheat, rice pilaf, dill rice, red rice, white rice and long bits of rice that looked more like fideo than anything else.

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Waiters carted over bowls of sauce to eat along with them, including butter beans in tomato sauce, stewed okra, green beans in “red sauce”, and a sweet syrup of cardamom pods, dried fruit and raisins.

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It made for a delicious, and overwhelmingly plentiful mix-and-match meal… a bit of green rice with red sauce; a bit of bulgur with cardamom syrup; a bit of everything mixed with lamb and pickles and charred bits of bread. Followed by all you can drink tea and all you can eat watermelon with a plate of raw (undried) dates. Thankfully, Tabekh is only open for breakfast and lunch: you’ll need all evening to digest it!

Neither restaurant is really listed, nor online. If you’re in the area and are craving rice, dumplings, or green bananas, call me… or just ask your cab driver.